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MTA says bus fares will return at the end of the month

The agency has figured out a new way to keep bus drivers safe without sacrificing fares.

Shaye Weaver
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Shaye Weaver
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New Yorkers will have to pay bus fare again, beginning August 31, the MTA says.

Since March, riding the bus has been free because front entry (and the fare box) has been blocked to distance bus drivers from riders during the pandemic. 

But now, the MTA has a new way to protect bus drivers so that fares can be paid simultaneously: instead of blocking off the entire front of the bus, the seat directly behind the driver will be blocked off and the white line that keeps passengers back from the driver and windshield will be moved farther away.

There will also be polycarbonate sliders and vinyl curtains installed on 4,800 local buses by the fall and full-length vinyl curtains installed on 1,000 express buses this month. The MTA will continue to block off the front two rows on express buses to allow distance between riders and the bus operator, the agency says.

MTA bus interior
Photograph: Courtesy MTA

The MTA has taken other steps to increase health and safety aboard its fleet. Last month, it unveiled a new mobile app feature that provides a real-time count of how many riders are onboard buses so New Yorkers can avoid crowded buses. It is also updating its entire fleet of about 6,000 buses with high density air filters that trap more airborne contaminants, and it's installing surgical mask dispensers across the fleet, the agency says.

"We are continuing to take aggressive steps to ensure employee and customer safety and it’s at the forefront of everything we do," said Patrick Warren, the MTA chief safety officer and acting COO of NYC Transit. "Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, we have distributed more than 6 million masks across agencies. Additionally, infection rates among our heroic workforce have dramatically decreased since the height of the pandemic with fewer than 170 bus employees currently at home under quarantine."

Bus ridership reached more than 1.3 million riders on August 14, which was the highest ridership has been since the start of the pandemic. Over the last five months, the MTA lost about $431 million in bus revenue (since there was a major drop in riders and no fares were collected.) Had the MTA collected fares during this time, it would have brought in $159 million, it says.

The agency is now asking for $12 billion in federal funding to get through 2020 and 2021.

"This financial calamity has made it critical to once again resume fare collection at the end of the month," the MTA said.

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